Women in construction craft roles are building their numbers, said the National Association of Building Trades Unions, citing results of a new apprenticeship study and a record turnout of nearly 4,000 North American union and nonunion attendees at the Tradeswomen Build Nations conference in Washington, D.C., held Dec. 1-3. 

Union officials said the analysis of new state data detailing U.S. registered union and nonunion apprentice programs shows women made up 6% of apprentices last year, compared to 3.8% in 2016. 

According to results building trades officials shared from the study, which it said contains data from 43 states and will be released in January, 88% of women who finished apprenticeships in the last ten years are still linked to union work. Building trades President Sean McGarvey said union apprentice programs have registered 40,000 women and 300,000 people of color in the last 20 years. 

There are about 1,675 registered U.S. union and non-union apprentice programs, but state data collection on their makeup, outcomes and other measures has been inconsistent before the new analysis by the Institute for Construction Employment Research, which is not affiliated with the building trades, according to Tom Krieger, the union group research director. 

"Combined with incomplete and incorrect data in some jurisdictions, these issues have significantly complicated analyses attempting to compare outcomes across trades and jurisdictions," said the report authors. "This, in turn, has created obstacles in understanding programs’ success and shaping industry-level and policy-making efforts to best support the construction sector." 

Report authors said it will be published annually or biennally.

The trend "is moving in the right direction," said Krieger although he cited retention as still a problem for tradeswomen, noting new pilot efforts in New York City and Milwaukee, run by the union-supported non-profit TradesFutures to provide child care financial support.

Maria Ford, division president of tool maker Stanley, Black and Decker, told attendees that the firm has committed $30 million to boost the craft workforce. 

AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler said that reports of artificial intelligence replacing workers in some jobs are “mindboggling and scary,” terming it “the next frontier of the labor movement.” But she urged women with craft skills to “make AI work for us,” also stressing that “you can’t build nations with an algorithm."

Lauren Sugerman, a former elevator constructor and director of advocacy group Chicago Women in Trades, who helped develop a national support program for tradeswomen 20 years ago, noted the "achievements of many tradeswomen and the advances in our industry to promote equity and inclusion," but also pointed to "challenges that far too many report," including inconsistent workhours, insufficient training, isolation and harassment.